Last September, a group of 15 girls from all over Belfast came together to form the 2016-17 U-16 girls Belfast Phoenix basketball team. With many of the girls being part of Belfast Phoenix BC for several years, having two new coaches was maybe a daunting thought, never mind having 6 new teammates. The newest members to the team were six PeacePlayers participants who have been part of the Belfast Interface League for more than 3 years. Ready to take the next step, they joined Belfast Phoenix BC in the Basketball Northern Ireland competitive league.
PeacePlayers coaches Joanne Fitzpatrick and Hannah Byrne, worked with the girls throughout the season to end up with a 8-2 record, at the top of the league. But this blog isn’t about scores or stats, Xs or Os, cups or trophies. This week’s blog is about a team, how they formed, stormed, normed and performed together. This week’s blog is written by local coordinator, Joanne Fitzpatrick, with a little help from the team.
When I started coaching these girls last year, I didn’t know what to expect. As someone who has only ever coached in PeacePlayers for the past 9 years, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be what these girls needed. I was a bag of nerves, thinking that these girls needed a coach with more competitive coaching experience. I walked into the gym and introduced myself to the team. Within seconds, Brooklyn O’Hare, PeacePlayers participant and new Belfast Phoenix member, broke the ice by giving the girls my nickname- JimmiJo11. At that moment, Brooklyn reminded me of something I like to teach all our kids, “Just be yourself.”Throughout the year, I’ve watched these girls go on an amazing journey. I’ve asked some of them and their parents to give you their story of the season.
How would you describe the PeacePlayers and Phoenix girls coming together?
“When the PeacePlayers girls all joined the team, I was nervous about what they would all be like, but after I got to know them a bit I love them and I really like playing with them.” – Cassie Taylor
“The girls that came originally from Phoenix are amazing ballers and I was intimidated by this at the start. But, it just helped me improve my skills more and made me a better player…We are a group of girls that are playing basketball and having fun. While playing, never once did I think about if they were Catholic, Protestant or anything else. It didn’t matter and still doesn’t, they are my friends and a group I will forever remember.” – Patrice Fox
“I was quite skeptical at the start when I found out we were joining with the PeacePlayer girls because I didn’t know who they were but it didn’t take long for us all to get along” – Brid Turley
“At first it was a bit awkward, but the girls were super nice. It was nice to meet new people in a great atmosphere that they created” – Anna Duncan
“When I joined Phoenix, I was nervous. So from being in PeacePlayers for a long time, it taught me just to be myself , to accept others and not to change in order to get people to like me.” – Brooklyn O’Hare
“Having all the PeacePlayers join the team has been great honestly, they’re all so nice and very friendly and they’re very easy to get along with. They’re all very inclusive and they are also very hard working and determined and of course they encouraged me to join PeacePlayers myself.” – Sara Mostafa
“At first, I was slightly nervous as I didn’t know if they would mix well together or just stay in separate groups, but after our first game against Dungannon it was clear how much the PeacePlayers girls added to the team and I know they would get along really well.” – Hannah Byrne
What was the highlight of the season for you and why?
“The highlight of the season for me was our first game against Andytown Tigers. Even though we lost, none of the girls gave up at all and it was the most intense game of the season!” – Hannah Byrne
“For me, the highlight of the season has to be winning the league especially as it was with a bunch of girls who didn’t really know each other at the start but bonded very quickly.” – Brid Turley
“The highlight for me was when we won our game against the Tigers, I think that we worked really hard and definitely deserved the win” – Sara Mostafa
“The highlight of the season has been playing with others in a league setting and building better friendships with those outside of PeacePlayers.” – Brooklyn O’Hare
“The highlight of the season for me was training with the team because I was very nervous coming to U16 alone, but now I feel quite comfortable” – Ayushma Kandel
What do you think PeacePlayers has brought to the team? Are PeacePlayers coaches different to other basketball coaches you’ve had?
“I didn’t know about PeacePlayers until the girls told me about it and encouraged me to join. Jingle Ball was my first event and I love it. The matches weren’t too competitive and there was music, everyone was dancing, it was just a great vibe.” – Ayushma Kandel
“Having a coach from PeacePlayers is different, other coaches I’ve had were about how to make great players, but PeacePlayers coaches make sure that we all got along well as a team too, which I think is really important” – Sara Mostafa
“Having a coach from PeacePlayers is different because although we all like to win, I think that PeacePlayers focuses more on being a team than just winning. A normal coach would focus on the result and not the progress that the team are making. A PeacePlayers coach would be more interesting in how the team works and that its ok to make mistakes.” – Cassie Taylor
“I think there is definitely a better team bond because of the PeacePlayers influence. I also feel like we can have a bit more fun, not take ourselves too seriously and I think that’s been great for the Phoenix girls to have that influence in their club basketball” – Hannah Byrne
A note from Jolene Fox. Parent of Patrice, PeacePlayers participant and Phoenix BC player.
“PeacePlayers started with basketball being fun, something to do, a way to meet new people and explore life (especially living within a divided society) in a way that sees beyond daily prejudices be it religion, race or socio-economic background. While I don’t feel that Patrice would have had a great prejudice on these issues but, societal normalcy in regards, especially, to religious differences in Northern Ireland may have had an impact. Through working within the West Belfast PeacePlayers team and in the city-wide teams and events and Champions4Peace programme, Patrice has had a platform to see other young people as just that, young people. There is no Catholic/Protestant, black/white, rich/poor, she has friends. They’ve learned lessons on the importance of inclusion and how isolating excluding or simply not including people can be. PeacePlayers has made the journey to playing basketball competitively a smooth transition. There is no requirement to know her friends religions etc, she is only concerned about how well they pick up the different plays and if they’re working well as a team. Some of them are even taller than her, that’s about the height (pardon the pun) of her noticing differences within her Phoenix teammates. Since Christmas, it is very evident that she has forged new friendships and has grown within herself exponentially. Patrice is more comfortable giving her opinion on things, she is willing to put herself forward and take a more assertive role when carrying out tasks. She has become more competitive, especially over the past fortnight and I’m sure that will continue over the coming month in the build up to the All-Irelands.”
I’ve had the most amazing experience coaching these girls. I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine. I’ve watched them play, in awe, every game, getting stronger as a team. Many of these girls are right, I did focus on them becoming a team and it took a while. But to see these girls win the league with heart, soul, and compassion for their teammates and the game of basketball, is the best reward I could ever receive. I’m prouder than ever of what they’ve achieved together and I can’t wait to see them wrap up this year in the All-Ireland play-offs next month. Onwards and upwards, rise the Phoenix!